IT was never going to be pretty, but when the weather cleared on Thursday and Stockton residents stopped blinking at the desolation before them, they realised they were looking at a catastrophe.
A huge stretch of coastline crippled by erosion, devoid of any usable beach.
Many fear they are seeing a landscape forever altered by the continual loss of sand so great that they describe the beach as "broken".
In five hours this week, a section of the beach lost 2.5 metres in sand height. The most severe erosion in 20 years.
Cabins at the caravan park were evacuated and reopened after inspections by coastal engineers.
City of Newcastle is being forced to undertake multi-million dollar works at the northern end of the Mitchell St seawall to protect it from "future failure caused by ongoing erosion".
A sixth generation local, Stockton Surf Life Saving Club president Callan Nickerson, said he was dismayed by the scene he faced following three large erosion events in as many months.
For decades Mr Nickerson has witnessed extensive scarping along the coastal strip, but what he saw this week he described as "bleak".
"It's totally unusable - it's the worst it's ever been," Mr Nickerson said. "It's broken and it's got state government finger prints all over it."
Mr Nickerson is one of many Stockton residents who view the beach as the suburb's "identity" and described it as heartbreaking watching it disappear.
The surf club's executive will hold an urgent meeting on Saturday to "discuss possible options" for the upcoming nipper and volunteer patrol season.
Last year many of the sand events for the club's growing nipper ranks had to be held on a grass oval nearby.
"The beach is the heart and soul of our community and here it is in this broken state," he said.
"To be truthful, I get really upset about it."
Former professional lifeguard Noel Burns, who spent 37 years patrolling Newcastle beaches, described it as a "horrible mess".
Mr Burns spent years measuring the impact of erosion on Stockton beach as part of his daily job.
"It's just getting worse and worse by the day at the moment, I've never seen it this bad," he said.
"It gets worse at the same time as bureaucratic red tape continues to prevent anything happening to fix it."
Earlier this month Stockton lost it's only child-care facility that closed abruptly due to the worsening erosion crisis, forcing City of Newcastle to start emergency sandbagging at the northern end of the Mitchell St rock wall to protect several roads and a string of beachfront homes along Barrie Crescent.
To date, the community's lobbying - over decades - for a long-term solution has fallen on deaf ears and with every new storm the beach continues to disappear.
But a glimmer of hope appeared on Thursday, when in response to questions from the Newcastle Herald, Local Government Minister Shelley Hancock - responsible for coastal erosion in NSW - agreed to visit Stockton. A spokesman for the minister said she wanted to see the beach "firsthand".
"Minister Hancock is aware of the serious nature of the erosion occurring at Stockton beach and has requested an urgent briefing from the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment," he said.
"The NSW government is continuing to support the council in implementing its plan to address the erosion occurring. Progress is also being made on identifying actions that can be taken to ensure a long-term solution is reached."
City of Newcastle chief executive Jeremy Bath described the erosion in recent weeks as "unprecedented".
Mr Bath said the city was doing everything it could under state government legislation to protect property and public safety. But he confirmed residents' worst fears, that a long-term solution could be years away.
"City of Newcastle's preferred option is to bring sand back to the coastline," he said. "However, this can only be done via the state government's Coastal Management Program process.
"We are working with various government agencies on a coastal management program which state government legislation dictates will come into effect from 31 December, 2021.
"This plan will include a long-term solution to ongoing erosion at Stockton. Until then, our hands are tied in terms of what we can do, unless the state government intervenes."
Successive studies dating back to the 1970s have outlined the need for a long-term solution to the continuing erosion of sand, but still no decision has been made on how to save the beach.
Over the past century Stockton beach has lost more than 10 million cubic metres of sand and the seabed has dropped more than seven metres.
A 2001 report found coastal degradation was increasing dramatically. The annual average of 50,000 cubic metres of lost sand had increased to 170,000 cubic metres, or enough to fill more than 113 Olympic pools.
It's estimated about 500,000 cubic metres of sand, or 50,000 truck loads, is needed to replace what has been lost from the beach and provide a buffer in front of the seawall.
In a grim prediction, Associate Professor Ron Boyd, of Newcastle University's School of Environmental and Life Sciences, said he fears the reservoir of sand that used to sit off Stockton and replenish the beach is "no longer there".
A long-term Stockton resident, Associate Professor Boyd said while coastal erosion was caused by climate cycles, too much sand had been lost from Stockton due to the construction of the breakwaters for the beach to recover.
"I believe we're not going to get growth of the beach again in the next few years," he said. "It will come back a little bit, but next time a big storm hits we'll have the equivalent amount to what we have now or potentially worse."
It is estimated up to 70 metres had been lost from the beach since 1981 and 10 million cubic metres lost since the 1860s before the Newcastle Harbour breakwaters were built.
Each year east coast low storm surges push huge waves into the Mitchell St rock wall stripping the coastline of sand.
With Newcastle and Stockton breakwalls trapping shore drift sand at Nobbys, there is not enough sand to replenish Stockton beach.
Experts have estimated there is a 4.4km-wide sand deposit off Nobbys containing 40 million cubic metres of sand, meant for Stockton beach.
Associate Professor Boyd described offshore sand extraction as a "very viable" and affordable solution to Stockton's problem if the state government would allow it.
He said between $5 million and $10 million would be enough to replenish the sand - the preferred option to save the beach - using offshore extraction
"Construction is not a good solution for a beach," he said. "In terms of recreational value of the beach, fishing, surfing and people enjoying the beach, that all disappears with construction of rock walls and other things."
In response to questioning by Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp about whether offshore sand extraction could be used at Stockton, Ms Hancock said sand was classified as a mineral and could not be sampled or extracted without a licence.
"Most of the state's waters are declared as a 'reserved block' to control who has access to minerals and to protect the environment," she wrote. "Currently no areas within the reserved block have been released and unsolicited applications are not valid under the [Offshore Minerals] Act."
Residents have previously campaigned for the Port of Newcastle to fund a long-term solution to the erosion problem that is largely caused by the harbour-entrance breakwaters.
But a spokeswoman for the Port of Newcastle said last year that the beach was "outside" the port boundary and not part of the port lease landholdings. "The breakwaters and Macquarie Pier are NSW government assets," she said.
Hastings Funds Management and China Merchants won an auction for the Port of Newcastle in 2014, paying a hefty $1.75 billion to secure a 98-year lease. It's estimated the NSW government pocketed $1 billion on the deal, some of which Stockton residents believe should be used to tackle the erosion problem.
Northside Boardriders president Simon Jones said the erosion was caused by the breakwaters. "This is not natural erosion, that sets Stockton apart from every other beach in NSW experiencing erosion problems."
- Watch the video: Relentless erosion closes Stockton beach
- Erosion wipes out Stockton's only childcare centre
- Community meeting told Stockton beach losing a metre a year
- Mission Australia's storm damaged Stockton early learning centre
- Childcare centre's future under cloud in erosion saga
- Childcare centre forced to close temporarily due to beach erosion threat
- Council back to drawing board over long-term solution for Stockton erosion
- Playground of Stockton's Mission Australia early learning centre set to be relocated as a result of erosion threat
- Fears childcare centre could crumble into the sea
- Stockton solution moves forward with meeting
- Garbage tip washing into the sea at Stockton
- State government handballs responsibility for Stockton beach
- 2017: Exposed mine shaft shows Stockton beach's erosion problem needs 'urgent' solution
- 2016: Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes suggests 'underground breakwall'
- 2016: Worst erosion in memory leaves Stockton beach exposed to next storm
- 2014: Dangerous erosion on Stockton Beach
- 2013: Stockton beach erosion | photos, video
While you're with us, did you know Newcastle Herald offers breaking news alerts, daily email newsletters and more? Keep up to date with all the local news - sign up here.
IN NEWS TODAY:
- Homicide squad detectives have arrested a man and a woman in connection to murder of Lake Macquarie mother Danielle Easey
- City of Newcastle closes Stockton beach as relentless conditions cause further devastating erosion
- 2019 Danny Buderus Medal winners: Barry Toohey reporting live from the Newcastle Knights annual awards gala
- Bus goes up in flames on Masonite Road in Heatherbrae, near Pacific Highway roundabout
- Lawyers accuse business figures of defamation after Facebook post, media release attack Nelmes, Bath
- Brett Hill's kidnapping, sexual assault trial will be judge-alone